Charter school network Valor Collegiate Academies marked the opening of its new high school Wednesday, and during the event state officials praised the school for its “diverse-by-design” approach.
Valor arrived on Nolensville Pike in Nashville five years ago. It now has two middle school campuses and is now adding a third for high schoolers. Testing data shows more of Valor’s economically disadvantaged students are on-track in English language arts and math than the state average.
“Both of Valor’s middle schools were recognized as reward schools, which means they stood out,” said Governor Bill Haslam during the event. “This is a school that’s purposeful about their diversity […] and they’re not just succeeding, they’re wildly succeeding.”
Kasar Abdulla, Valor’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, says Metro Nashville's lottery system for student placement can be a gamble when it comes to building a mixed classroom.
But, she says the school has figured out it can still accomplish that by reaching out to certain communities on the front end.
“We cannot really influence how the lottery comes out. But if you have a diverse applicant pool there are chances the lottery results are going to reflect that as well,” she said.
Abdulla noted she markets by monitoring ZIP codes and looking at student demographics like race. Then, she sends out the admissions application and marketing material to diverse groups.
The result is a student body at the middle school level that’s 60 percent non-white, with over half of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches.
School leaders say their promising test results could come from classroom diversity, but they haven’t researched that possibility yet.